Digital Doodling and Podding, oh my!

Mic&HeadphonesIt’s been a week of mulling over approaches to teaching during the coming academic year. I’m keen to try my hand at preparing a rubric for one of the projects in a performance-based course I teach. Met up with rubrics

and the way they operate a couple of years back at the VASTA (Voice and Speech Teachers’ Association) conference in Glasgow. Laying out the map for a creative project, relating the objectives to clear outcomes, and then describing how one assesses these outcomes has long been a challenge for me and colleagues in the field.The whole rubric thing came up again last month at the HICAH conference in Honolulu when I saw a poster session describing what seemed a very clear and transparent rubric for a painting project. Discussed it briefly with the academic presenting the poster session and have since been corresponding with him on the “how-to” angle. Bottom line is that I am nearly finished preparing my first for the Flying Solo (one person, self-devised show) project which I’ll be running with a colleague.

The other “mull” has been around my use of digital apps and equipment to create learning and teaching materials. This was prompted by a call from a Melbourne-based writer to interview me for an article in the AUC’s “Wheels for the Mind” magazine. I’d been published in “Wheels …” before: “iPod Impressions.” Australasian Wheels for the Mind. Vol 12 No 2 (Spring) 2002. I’d written about taking the very first iPod series for a test drive, using it for dialect coaching in a production I was working on at the time. Since then, creating sound-based course materials and teaching aids has been an ongoing project. The arrival of some smooth apps for producing podcasts via Apple’s iLife suite has made production much, much simpler and faster–faster being a bonus. I’ve not spent the time I should, nor have I done much recording of the outcomes of these projects, and the phone call this week was timely in a sense, prompting me to do something about it. I’ve provided some comment below on how I went about developing these podcasts for use as a teaching tool.

Podcast Production: quick and easy in iLife
I produced the podcasts using Garage Band with sound files recorded on an Olympus DM-20 digital recorder … a little gem which has great sound quality. Downloading is a snap, and Garage Band is quick and easy to use. I enhanced episodes with my own photographs and produced slides in Keynote to accompany the soundtrack. I also used music supplied within Garage Band to create a theme to introduce and close each episode, and used little stingers to break up the voice track. These enhanced podcasts provided students with a vocal presentation along with lecture notes and images.

During the year I prepared materials for four separate courses: Australian Theatre and Drama, and Modern Theatre and Drama (advanced level courses), and two introductory level theatre history courses. All were enhanced podcasts (voice track, music, images and lecture notes embedded) and each episode focussed on a discussion of a particular play or theory or era of drama. I also prepared a podcast on how to use podcasts as many students are still not as tech savvy as is believed. These are included in the samples. Some students needed persuading that “taking the lecture with you” wherever you go is a better way to absorb material than by a one hit in a lecture room with pages of often messy lecture notes. For all the students I see around the place plugged in to the ubiquitous earbuds, many were surprisingly conservative when it came to getting their heads and study habits around replacing the live lecture experience with a virtual one.

In planning to cover the course material, I generally broke a usual 50 minute lecture down into 2-3 podcasts. I think 20 minutes is a good average amount of time to maintain a listener’s interest and attention. It’s also about the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, and although I have nothing to prove my theory, probably a fair average driving time from home to work or to the shops … so a good amount of time to set aside to listen to a podcast. I know this works for me, and I’m something of a podcast fan with a reasonably long attention span. As a voice teacher I’m a big supporter of the human voice’s power. When used well, it can reach out to the listener to personalise and provide focus on content. Podcasting works extremely well for me in this regard.

Vocal delivery for podcasting lectures
As you will hear from the samples, some of the podcasts are vocally relaxed; I avoided editing out some of the “ums” and “ahs” deliberately. When I recorded the first couple of podcasts, I attempted to speak to outline lecture notes. This didn’t work for me, as there were inevitable pauses and repetition, not to mention the “um and ah” stalling non-verbals. This meant lots of time trawling through the sound track, editing out the bumps. Editing is easy enough in Garageband and most other apps like it, but if you’re under pressure to produce, then get smart and script the entire lecture first. It’s time well spent.

As to the style of delivery, whilst the odd “um and ah” here and there is OK, it’s best to keep clear of any rambling. Most of us use it and accept it in casual conversation, but it’s not acceptable for a lecture, where focus and keeping to the point are critical to success. I suppose it’s a fine line balancing relaxed delivery with focus. I learned pretty quickly to script fully what I wanted to say, and to build in repeats at key points. I found then that I could concentrate on the how of the delivery and not the what.

My preference is for a conversational style, since a student will be listening up close whether via earphones or on screen. The kind of vocal delivery usually found in a lecture hall is not in my opinion appropriate to the podcast format. There is generally an inevitable playing to the room and a pitch to the back row, whether or not the lecturer is using a mic. In the podcasts I recorded, I aimed to play the mic and not the room, and to speak as though I was having a one on one conversation with the student.

Podcast Currently in Production
Shakespeare in Queen’s Park Festival: Behind the Scenes. This is a podcast which is designed to introduce potential audience members and interested people (students and general public) to the work being done in preparation for an annual theatre festival held in the city. It will be composed of interviews with creatives and artists. The podcast will also serve as a teaching resource. This podcast again being produced in Garageband and is hotlinked from the festival website. (NB archived website of the Festival blog and site formerly located on USQ servers).

Shakespeare in Queen’s Park Festival: Sonnets for St Valentine’s Day. Students (and a couple of staff) feature on this bunch of sonnets being progressively released in the days leading up to the feast of the patron saint of lovers. It is of course, a shameless way of plugging the Festival!

I like introducing iPods (and other mp3 players) as learning tools for students . I teach in a Theatre Department, and many of my students are professional actors in training. For them learning lines, songs, and sourcing materials to assist them in creating roles are part of their daily routines. In some of the voice for performance courses I run, students are required to learn dialects and accents. The immersion method is one of the best methods for learning. Students work with a native speaker, observing and recording them (or using downloaded recordings of speakers). They then using constant playback to reinforce sound changes.

When the pressure builds, often in a production week, and in the lead up to show, actors “plug in” to their iPods to relax or to rev up for a performance. In all of these cases, I’ve found the portable mp3 player to be a perfect tool for this: light, portable and easy to “rewind,” unlike the old tape players of only a few years back. iPods and the like are also great fun to use, and this appeals to students, young and old. I’ve always believed that good design coupled with ease of use, as well as aesthetics–in other words, the total “cool” factor is important in attracting and then getting people to use things. Typical of the design philosophy behind all Apple products, the iPod is based on the beautifully simple and the intuitive action. The cool factor is very high.

I’ve also used an iPod in performance. Last year, I developed and directed an education program which toured into local high schools. We needed a very portable, light and quick system to set up and strike in school halls or classrooms. The iPod coupled with the iPod HiFi system was perfect for our needs. The sound effects and music needed for the show sat on the iPod, and the Stage Manager was able to operate the HiFi via the remote. It was perfect. In another project, we experimented with an actor using the remote to play sound effects and music as part of her performance. We mused at the time about the day a remote might be built into a piece of costume, enabling the actor to “conduct” the soundtrack even more subtly. It’s probably not too far off!



3 responses to “Digital Doodling and Podding, oh my!”

  1. Sue Waters Avatar
    Sue Waters

    Hi Kate

    Loved reading about how you are using podcasting as I also podcast. Are you aware that you can record with your ipod (if you have a nano or video ipod)?

    I am also the same, max. 20 minutes but that is because I use a PC. I would have thought with a Mac and making enhanced podcasts that it would not be such an issue.


  2. Kate Foy Avatar
    Kate Foy

    Thanks Sue. Yes I have a video iPod myself, but wasn’t keen to buy another dongle to record with. I like the Olympus D20 which is light and portable. I sling it round my neck to record lectures on the fly and don’t even need the microphone. Great sound quality.

    I could record longer than 20 mins, and it’s not time-limited, though Garageband would only permit 1 hr and 16 mins of recording. Maybe the new version in iLife 08 has fixed this. I stay at 20 mins for the convenience factor: enough time to listen, over coffee, while commuting, and of course the download time is an issue still with dial-uppers.

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